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10 Most Affordable Housing Markets in California

Downtown view of Redding, California.

You don’t have to be locked out of the enviable Californian lifestyle by the state’s high home prices. Instead, you can choose to live in one of the 10 most affordable housing markets in California.

In late May, 2024, USA Today reported: “The median sale price for homes in California passed $900,000 for the first time.” And you’ve probably read reports of mansions being listed in the state for as much as $250 million. Rent isn’t cheap, either.

But you don’t need to miss out on California’s climate, scenery, coastline, wines, outdoor pursuits, sports teams, cuisines, and sunsets.

Don’t assume our list of the 10 most affordable housing markets in California are undesirable places to live. Most on our list are downright delightful, even idyllic.

Affordable Cities and Average Home Price

1. Barstow: $255,306

2. Ridgecrest: $267,307

3. Oroville: $297,445

4. Porterville: $305,932

5. El Centro: $341,978

6. Hanford: $355,115

7. Marysville: $378,117

8. Fresno: $380,682

9. Redding: $380,900

10. Merced: $382,673

1. Barstow

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Estimated Payment*


*Payments mentioned in this article include principal, interest, and PMI, but not taxes, insurance, or HOA dues. Example purposes only. Not a commitment to lend. See methodology for payment details.

Located in the Mojave Desert, Barstow is a city of over 25,000 residents. Founded in 1880 as Fishpond, it later changed its name in honor of the then-president of the Santa Fe Railway, William Barstow Strong.

The city is a major road transportation hub, as two busy highways meet there. Fort Irwin, about 37 miles northeast, spurred growth in the 1940s. That’s now the home of the army’s National Training Center. The mining of jasper and copper, along with irrigated agriculture, contributes to the local economy.

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2. Ridgecrest

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Ridgecrest can be found in the southern portion of the Indian Wells Valley. It’s surrounded by the Cosos to the north, Sierra Nevada on the west, and the El Paso Mountains on the south. It is about a two-hour drive from both Bakersfield and San Bernardino. It’s perhaps most famous for its beautiful sunsets and long sunny days, which the residents love.

Today, Ridgecrest provides shopping for over 40,000 people throughout the Indian Wells Valley.

3. Oroville

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Considered the gateway to Lake Oroville and the Feather River recreational areas, Oroville is located in Butte County in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Oroville is the second largest lake in California, and was created with the construction of the Oroville Dam.

The greater Oroville area is home to some of the most significant attractions in the region and brings in over a million visitors every year. Local activities include swimming, skiing, sailing, fishing, picnicking and camping.

4. Porterville

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With a population of about 71,000, Porterville has a youthful median age of 32 years. It is home to several beautiful parks, each with its own unique setting. Residents are offered a low-density suburban feel with most owning their own homes.

Porterville plays host to numerous special events, including car shows throughout the year and its popular annual spring festival.

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5. El Centro

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El Centro has the unique distinction of being the largest settlement below sea level in the United States. Covering 11 square miles, it is the biggest city in Imperial County and is located near the Mexican border, 117 miles east of San Diego. Indeed, you can drive to Mexicali, Baja California, an important international commercial center, in about 15 minutes.

El Centro’s two largest employment sectors are wholesale/retail trade and government, reflecting its role as a regional commercial and administrative center.

6. Hanford

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With a population of around 63,000, Hanford is another city with a youthful vibe. Its residents have a median age of 34 years.

Hanford is located in the San Joaquin Valley region of the greater Central Valley and is the county seat of Kings County. Its residents are proud of its friendly people, top colleges, amazing weather, and no end of things to do. There are excellent restaurants, and extensive outdoor sporting activities that include walking trails and biking.

7. Marysville

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Marysville can be found 50 miles north of Sacramento and was established in 1842. With a population of around 12,000, it can boast the honorary title of “California’s Oldest Little City.”

Being a historic Gold Rush town there are plenty of trails where you can discover much about local Native American history.

8. Fresno

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Fresno is the only one of our 10 most affordable housing markets in California to have a population of over 1 million people. Unsurprisingly, it’s a young, cosmopolitan place, though it’s located in California’s most productive agricultural area.

It boasts a vibrant creative community and is home to the famous Fresno Art Museum. It is also the largest city in Central Valley. Fresno grew continuously throughout the 20th century, and an immigration influx from around the world has given the city a wonderfully diverse and international flair.

9. Redding

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Known as the "Trails Capital of California,” Redding has over 300 days of sunshine each year. It is also one of Forbes Magazine’s Top 10 fishing towns in North America, and The Fly Shop is the largest fly fishing business in the world. It’s to be found in “upstate” California, at the northernmost point of the Central Valley.

Within just a 30-mile radius of the city, over 600 square miles of State and National Parks can be found, all of which are open to public access. Naturally, many of Redding’s 93,000 population take time to enjoy such an attractive resource on their doorstep.

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10. Merced

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Known as the "Gateway to Yosemite”, Merced has a population of around 86,000. The city is only a short drive from beautiful beaches, fishing, skiing, and other outdoor attractions.

Merced offers pleasant neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, and bicycle paths along creeks that link the major City parks. There are also abundant shopping opportunities.

California Housing Market Insights

Nobody moves to California to find a cheap home.

According to California state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Annual household income needed to qualify for a mortgage on a mid-tier California home in March 2024 was about $235,000—over 2 times the median California household income in 2022 ($85,300).”

And things haven’t gotten better recently. The same source reports home prices climbing substantially, “in some cases, growing at historically rapid rates.”

Of course, all such reports rely on averages. And California includes some of the most expensive home-price hotspots on earth. But it also includes many places where affordability is a much less challenging issue.

How To Afford More in California

Choosing a home in an affordable area is probably the single most effective way to keep your housing costs low. That’s why we’re publishing our list of the most affordable housing markets in California.

For many, who are retiring or who can work remotely, that’s easy. But it’s more difficult for others.

Wherever you choose to buy, you can get a bigger mortgage by getting your finances in good shape. That way, you could qualify for a lower mortgage rate and a larger loan.

If you have time and are able, try to:

  1. Boost your credit score — Probably the most influential element of a mortgage application

  2. Reduce your indebtedness — Lenders want to see you can comfortably afford payments. Reducing your existing debts gives you extra headroom

  3. Make a bigger down payment than necessary — You might not be able to save even more than the minimum. But read on for how you might get help

  4. Choose a home and city or county with low property taxes — That helps cut your outgoings so you can afford more

  5. Pick the right type of mortgage — Would you be better off with a conventional loan or one backed by the government? Take time to research your options carefully

  6. Shop around for the best mortgage deal — Federal department HUD recommends: “Different lenders may quote you different prices, so you should contact several lenders to make sure you’re getting the best price.”

Chances are, you can’t do all those at once. But every little bit helps.

California First-Time Buyer Programs

California has a dizzying array of down payment assistance programs (DPAs) available in the state. Many of these are managed by state, city or county governments, though some may be offered by non-profits and others.

Each DPA gets to set its own rules, eligibility criteria and assistance packages. So, it’s well worth shopping around for the program that helps you most. Some may offer financial support for closing costs, too.

Many offer the full down payment requirement for the loan you’re applying for: 3% of the purchase price for a Freddie Mac- or Fannie Mae-branded conventional mortgage or 3.5% for an FHA mortgage. So, if you already have some savings, you may be able to make a bigger down payment than the minimum.

You should probably begin by exploring the websites of the two big statewide players: the California Housing Finance Authority and the Golden State Finance Authority.

But be sure to also do internet searches for down payment assistance programs in your city or county. You may be able to find more generous help through those.

Look out, too, for special programs for state, city or county employees, first responders, credit union members and others. See your search engine as your friend.

Get Pre-approved for Your California Home

Many towns and cities across California are affordable for just about any budget. See what home price you qualify for by requesting your pre-approval from a reputable lender.

Get pre-approved for your California home now.


To find the 10 most affordable housing markets in California, we started with typical home prices as reported on the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) Single-Family Home Time Series for February 2024. We assumed a 5% down payment, the typical requirement for first-time buyers. We then calculated the monthly payment on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 6.946%, the average rate published on Optimal Blue Mortgage Market Indices for a buyer with less than 20% down and a 700 FICO score at the time of data collection. We added PMI costs per mortgage insurance provider MGIC. The stated mortgage payment does not include homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, or HOA dues. To increase relevance, we limited eligible cities to the top 2,000 largest by population nationwide per Zillow’s report. In some cases, we excluded cities within the same metropolitan area when another one was already featured as to highlight the greatest range of locations.

About The Author:

Peter Warden has been covering mortgage, real estate, and personal finance for 15 years. He has appeared on The Mortgage Reports, Credit Sesame,, and other publications.

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